Blog Post

Should I really stay in the office and play games?
Posted By David Henderson, 29/10/2014 9:01:28 PM

@JenFrahm tweeted a definition of gamification as using game design thinking to get better outcomes at work; it's more than just ‘fun’ or ‘engagement’. Tick, I get it. I first experienced it 2001 when I went to London and worked for an organization that was undertaking a global rebrand and I’ve applied it myself as a Communications professional many times since. However, my research has unraveled how this concept has evolved significantly into the video gaming and digital world, so I have enjoyed understanding more. Here’s what I know about gamification:

1. It’s more science than fun

In a recent Ted Talk, Gabe Zichermann shows how games make kids better problem-solvers, and can make us better at many things from driving to multi-tasking. We’ve all heard the public debate for and against kids and games. I get it in principal but in a work place, really? He had me at the 1987 classic, ‘Where in the World is Carmen Santiago’ – Educational? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. However, his well-supported argument is far richer; among many points, he shows how the use of video games link to fluid intelligence (the intelligence we use to problem solve), and how they are “connected to constant and exponential increase in learning. Video games fundamentally present a continuous process of learning to users – they constantly evolve and move forward.”

It’s important to understand the fundamentals; the dynamics, the mechanics and the process. We’re talking much more than gaming for gaming sake here (the ‘fun’). The more I learn about the psychological parallels with gaming and the way people learn, accept or align to change, and innovate, the more I am convinced of the professional merits of gamification (the ‘science’). And so far, rationally and emotionally, gamification stacks up as legit.

2. Learning vs engagement

Let’s not confuse the two; for a moment I did. Engaging employees, or even customers, on an organisations’s key priorities, products and services is one thing, but employing gamification to enrich understanding, educate, and stimulate problem solving is another. And, I’ll permit contradiction only by saying that engagement can obviously be a highly effective educational tool, but hopefully you see my point. To stand at the crossroad of where Communications, Change, and Learning & Development meet is very different to the road travelled to get there. Which leads nicely to my next insight…

 3. Be clear on the purpose

Like anything you do in a resource-constrained world, you must have a clear objective right from the outset. Technology, just because it can do something, doesn’t make it the right solution. In my professional career, which has spanned communications, change and learning & development, I have not recommended a channel, a workshop, a program ’just cause’ and I wouldn’t start now, simply because technology allows me to do so. Innovation options still require traditional evaluation; objective, purpose, audience, execution, measurement, etc. Otherwise, it’s simply fluffy guff. Enter my next learning…

4. It’s not just a Millennials thing

“Gamification is just a Gen Y or Gen Z thing”, is a fairly common attitude I found when talking to others. I am not convinced that this argument will hold up either. In a recent study conducted by KPMG, it found that older generations were actually more highly engaged than younger generations who were the ones more at risk of losing interest early (arguably because they are already used to sophisticated gaming). At first this surprised me, but actually, upon deeper reflection, it does make sense; Gamification is new, addictive and challenging in a way that holds interest for a Gen Xer than our younger, more fickle professional siblings who have been immersed in this kind of gaming far longer and have commensurately shorter attention spans to match. 

5.  I think it’s around to stay and that’s ok

That World Wide Web will never take off right?! The digital reincarnation of gamification has been around a little while longer than I care to publically admit. Nearly two years ago (erhem!), a HBR blog looked at How Deloitte Made Learning a Game. It also highlighted that technology research firm Gartner Inc. predicted gamification will be used in 25 percent of redesigned business processes by 2015, this will grow to more than a $2.8 billion business by 2016, and 70 percent of Global 2000 businesses will be managing at least one “gamified” application or system by 2014. Time to get heads out of the sand and get on board.

6. How do you get leaders to say ‘game on’?

“Hey boss, I got an idea, you know that safety issue, I think we can improve it if we get people to start playing a game…” How do you go about convincing your boss or client that the best solution to a particular problem is to get their ‘game on’? You certainly need to be well versed in the underpinning science, roll out the numbers from respectable sources, integrate it into the big picture strategy and seek (at least definitely speak) commercial/business outcomes. More and more leaders are on a very serious search to find new ways to mobilize collaboration and unleash innovation as a critical catalyst to sustainable success. So, given the value gamification can bring to overcome obstacles, resolve problems, boost creativity and build your brand, it seems like is a worthy addition to any communication strategy. To steal @JonathanChamp’s closing tweet from the #CommsChat; 1. Treat gamification as a means, not an end, 2. Research, 3. Test small and, 4. Use experts.

Bah humbug or new BFF? That’s up for you to decide. I take comfort knowing that I am now consciously incompetent on the digital application of a subject matter that I was already unconsciously competent in. And for that reason, I am enthusiastically stepping forward.

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